VOA reporter Cecily Hilleary has interviewed the Reverend Terry Jones, a controversial pastor from the state of Florida who helped promote the anti-Islamic video that is being cited as causing much of the protests in the Muslim world. Jones first drew international attention when, in July 2010, he announced on social media websites his intentiion to mark the anniversarty of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States by holding an "International Burm a Quran Day." Despite appeals from the U.S. government for him to cancel the event, it prompted violent protests in many Muslim countries. In this interview, excerpted below, Jones discusses his role in disseminating the Internet video "Innocence of Muslims," which has provoked violent protests this week.
Hilleary: How did you find out about the film in the first place?
Jones: We were contacted by him, by the producer, we were contacted by him several weeks ago. He wanted to fly here to Gainesville [Florida] to show us the film. He wanted us to promote the film, put our stamp of approval on the phone. Yeah, yeah, he wanted all our support for the film.
Hilleary: And when you say,’he,’ who are you talking about?
Jones: Well, I’m talking about the producer, director, whatever the guy that goes by the name of Sam Bacile, which, of course, is not his name. In the meantime, I’ve talked to him several times.
Hilleary: How did you get to know him and how did he present himself to you?
Jones: Like I said, he first contacted us. That came initially from him. Since then, we have had many conversations with him. He has, in those conversations, never revealed to us his true name or identity. I know that when we first started having contact with him, the office here asked him what his name was and asked him a couple of questions, and he did not want to reveal his name. In the meantime, I’ve talked to him several times and I have never asked him his name.
Hilleary: And you weren’t concerned about who you were dealing with? He just said he was afraid to give out his name, he was afraid for his life?
Jones: Right, exactly. I mean, I can understand that. As you are probably aware of, since our activities we’ve received several hundred death threats. A Pakistani organization has put out a reward on my life for $2.4 million, and I just got an email that was forwarded to us. Another organization has put out a further reward of $10,000 and I know from talking to him that he is definitely afraid and he is in hiding, and actually, from what he said, the only people that he talks to or trusts, and the only people he receives a phone call from are from us, so I think he’s just very, very suspicious.
Hilleary: So did they send you a copy of the film or did they just tell you to download what was already available on the internet?
Jones: No, they didn’t tell us to download. They actually sent us a copy, or sent us that trailer to look at.
Hilleary: Did you watch it?
Jones: Yes, of course.
Hilleary: You’ve been approached by some pretty high-ranking military and political figures to stop these activities - David Petraeus, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, and even our President Barack Obama, they’ve all appealed to you to cancel plans to burn the Quran and to try the Prophet Muhammad, etc. I know you consider yourself a patriot. Why would you ignore the appeals by these very prominent leaders in our country?
Jones: Yeah, I mean, of course, I didn’t totally ignore them. I mean, as you said, that’s exactly what happened. At the beginning of this campaign here-what was it, two days ago? I got a call from [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ] General [Martin] Dempsey, asking me not to show the film. He supposedly had seen the film himself. I told him that we were going to show the trailer, and I would definitely consider that.
Hilleary: You’ve said this film isn’t meant to insult Muslims, yet can you understand that they do feel insulted?
Jones: Oh, definitely. I only repeated what the producer there asked me to say in that particular statement. I definitely do agree that the film, in my opinion, is definitely insulting.
Hilleary: What I’m interested in is this: We’ve had U.S. officials die. We’ve had soldiers injured, hurt. We’ve now lost a U.S. Ambassador. It’s getting pretty serious, Reverend Jones.
Hilleary: How much will it take before you question the kind of preaching you are doing?
Jones: Well, I think one thing we have to look at -- I understand these things [loss of ambassador, etc] are very tragical [sic], and of course I one hundred percent agree. The U.S. ambassador, that’s all terrible, and we should be in an outrage , because it has now finally touched us. We should have been actually been outraged a very long time ago.
Hilleary: There is one more question. Is there anything that you would like to say to the family of Ambassador Stevens and the other embassy staff.
Jones: I would say to the Ambassador that I am very, very sorry that it happened. I am very sorry that Islam has again used whatever excuse that they can find to promote the violent activity. And as I said, I do understand.